The Enlightened Minds of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington

I wrote the following on AJC columnist Jay Bookman’s blog during the 4th of July weekend of 2015:


In Jay Bookman’s column in today’s Sunday paper, entitled, “Liberty, equality expand,” (Link: Bookman writes:


“Opponents of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling are admittedly correct when they argue that Jefferson would probably be horrified and astonished to learn that his words were being applied to same-sex marriage.  That wasn’t what he had in mind.  They are also correct that in the past two centuries we have expanded the meaning of terms such as equality and liberty significantly beyond what Jefferson had imagined.”


I am as disappointed in Jay Bookman’s understanding of Jefferson’s mind as I am in his understanding of Washington’s mind.  Lawyers who argue cases are not historical intellectuals, as Jefferson was.  Here are Thomas Jefferson’s words, not Bookman’s words nor the words of attorneys:

“As. . . new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. . . .Each generation. . . has. . .a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness. . . . ‘Nothing then,’ he told Major John Cartwright in 1824, ‘is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.’ ”

So little does Bookman understand Jefferson that he does not acknowledge that Adams and Jefferson were opposed in matters of the average man’s rights in America. That difference in views was a point of difference between them in the election of 1800.  Jefferson’s mind was fluid, not static.  Bookman fails to see that.  Jefferson advocated for public education for all citizens – rich and poor – so that they all could participate in their own self-government.  He purchased the Louisiana Territory in large part so that average men might go west and be landowners.  Jefferson considered Adams to be unduly influenced by status, as had the Royalists been, and Adams was a Federalist.  Jefferson’s support came from the average man because they understood Jefferson’s egalitarian mind better than many today.  Jefferson stood above the other Founding Fathers in moving this nation forward, over centuries, toward progressive ideas. Thomas Jefferson would have supported gay rights and Civil Rights of all kinds, if he had lived today, because of the inherent freedom within those rights.


(Added words by me to Jay Bookman’s  Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog article of July 7, 2015:

Bookman: “. . . fathered children with a slave and held some of those children as slaves until his death. . .”


Yes, Thomas Jefferson did keep Thomas Eston Hemings (later surnamed “Jefferson” by Eston himself at age 44 when he passed for white with his whole family in Wisconsin), age 18, (named by Thomas Jefferson) and Madison Hemings (named for his friend James Madison by Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson), age 21, both being taught as apprentices to be skilled craftsmen under their Hemings’ Uncle slave at Monticello at the time of Jefferson’s death so that they could both earn their livings when freed (as well as their Hemings’ uncle being freed) upon Jefferson’s death in his probated Will, as he had promised his concubine Sally Hemings, half-sister to his deceased wife, with whom he had had six children, 4 having lived past toddler stage, and with whom he had had a 37 year relationship.

Thank you for that photo of Jefferson looking down upon the living leaders of our nation in the 1960s.  I have no doubt that LBJ was following the spiritual leadership of Thomas Jefferson when he almost single-handedly insured that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be passed into law, a historical, momentous decision for our nation, one Jefferson had dreamed of happening and hoped would happen as early as possible in America.

I agree with the thoughts you expressed in this commentary, Jay Bookman.  I must also add that the racist leaders of the South, whom you cited, were representatives of the consciousness of most of the Southern people at that time in our history.  The consciousness of most the Southern people, as well as all Americans, has now finally caught up with the consciousnesses of Jefferson and Washington, of 2 centuries earlier. . .We must learn, as an educated American populace, how to contain paradoxical and complicated situations and persons, within our minds, without simplifying them to absurdity.

Hence, the reason Jefferson advocated so strongly for an educated populace of all citizens of this nation – poor and rich.  He had placed on his tombstone that he was “Author of the Declaration of Independence, Author of the Rights of Religious Liberty in Virginia, and Founder of the University of Virginia” – and that that was all that Thomas Jefferson had placed upon his tombstone.” )


Expanded quote from Thomas Jefferson:  (From Dr. Saul Padover’s book, “Jefferson” )

” ‘Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. . . .I know. . . that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. . . .As. . . new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. . . .Each generation. . . has. . .a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness. . . .a solemn opportunity of doing this every nineteen or twenty years should be provided by the constitution.’

“His (Jefferson’s) conclusion in the matter of laws and institutions was that they were perpetually subject to change for the benefit of humanity. ‘Nothing then,’ he told Major John Cartwright in 1824, ‘is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.’ ”


Of course, Jefferson’s “attitude toward homosexuals doesn’t match that of a modern person.”  That should be understood without having to write it.  However, what you and Bookman are failing to acknowledge is that Jefferson lived in his own times, but had an intellectual vision which allowed for changes in society over time which enhanced civil liberties.  Reread his words which I have excerpted today, and which are found in the Library of Congress and in his book “Notes on Virginia.”

IF Jefferson were living today, he would support gay marriage, and anyone who understands the intellectual vision of Jefferson would understand that to be true.

Again, I have no “romanticized vision” of Jefferson.  I am simply well-read on Jefferson.  I have been reading on Jefferson’s thinking and other statesmen and women since I retired from teaching, 15 years ago.  I know what I am talking about intellectually, and I am not indulging in soft-headed adolescent emotions.  I have have a tough intellectual mind,  and romantic mishmash is abhorrent to me, as a well-read person.  That is one reason I do not enjoy inane films.


Jefferson’s original words in The Declaration of Independence, which he authored, condemned slavery.  Benjamin Franklin,  older, wiser, and more pragmatic than Jefferson, being almost a half century older than the young, idealistic Jefferson, had Jefferson remove those words condemning slavery so that Georgians and South Carolinians would join the other colonies’ signers of the Declaration of Independence, making for more voices from America to King George of England as our Founding Fathers tried to get the United States of America afloat.

Link for Jefferson’s removed words from the final version of “Declaration of Independence” can be found at the following link:

How little most citizens seem to internalize historical events and the flow of the consciousness within humans in history’s ongoing flow.  Jefferson had that gift, and a progressive mind, and that is why he was acknowledged to be great in his time, by even Hamilton, as well as Washington, and Adams, and certainly Madison (for whom Jefferson’s son by Sally Hemings was named) and Monroe, as well as Lincoln, later.

And, Ben Franklin was an abolitionist – Oh, the irony – what a paradox to work through!  Can we at least try to expand our thinking enough to understand complexities of thought and action, as did our Founding Fathers?


There is no need to place labels, such as Deist, upon Thomas Jefferson’s beliefs (or anyone else’s, imho) for Jefferson considered himself, religiously, a sect unto himself.  See below.

“Thomas Jefferson was deeply but unconventionally religious. An empiricist, he believed that a rational and benevolent God was evident in the beauty and order of the universe. He professed “Christianism,” a belief in the morals taught by Jesus of Nazareth, but he rejected Jesus’s divinity, resurrection, the atonement, and biblical miracles. As such, Jefferson’s beliefs resisted conventional labels, and in 1819 he suggested to a correspondent that “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.” Jefferson meticulously cut up four copies of the Gospels (in English, French, Greek, and Latin), retaining only selected passages, without miracles, to create The Jefferson Bible, his own book for spiritual guidance and solace. Jefferson’s career was also marked by religious controversy. He was denounced as an “arch-infidel” in the presidential election of 1800, and his efforts to prevent the appointment of a minister to teach religion at the University of Virginia, one of the first state-owned colleges in the United States, met strong resistance. Jefferson embraced god-given human rights and opposed their abridgment by government. He is known as one of the founders of American religious freedom, and his phrase “a wall of separation between Church & State” has been viewed as emblematic by historians and by the modern United States Supreme Court.”

Addition from the link above:

“Jefferson’s religious beliefs provided a crucial foundation for his political views. Jefferson believed not only that God created man, and gave humans certain rights, but that the right to think freely for oneself—free from the restraints of ministers, dogma, and government—was central to people’s humanity.He argued that neither religion nor free government could flourish if members could not think for themselves. Forced belief was an oxymoron for Jefferson.”

I could not agree more with the views of Thomas Jefferson in this regard. That is why I say today, especially, the 239th celebration year of the Declaration of Independence, authored by Thomas Jefferson, “Thank God Jefferson lived.”


Another poster: “This NYTimes article today might interest you, as a great admirer of Lincoln: ‘What Did Lincoln Really Think of Jefferson? ‘ ”

My response to that Poster: “You are more impressed with the writings of college professors who make the NY Times than I am.  I believe that is the way you have been trained.  However, I am more unorthodox and unconventional than that and I will take Allen Guelzo’s opinions with a grain of salt.  What I do know, is that Lincoln made the point to stop in his travels from Illinois to Washington DC on his way to become President at Independence Hall in Philadelphia so that he could step in the same place where Thomas Jefferson had stood.  That I learned when I visited Independence Hall in 2011.  Here is more evidence that Lincoln valued Jefferson:

Lincoln on Thomas Jefferson April 6, 1859: Letter to H.L. Pierce

In this letter Lincoln explains his thoughts on Thomas Jefferson and the phrase “all men are created equal.”

‘All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.’ ”



Jay Bookman does not see George Washington with individual clarity, either, imho.  Here were Bookman’s words, contained within his blog’s comments on June 25, 2015, on this nation’s first President and Commander-in-Chief of the American Revolutionary Army:


” . . . I give no ‘bonus morality points’ for freeing your slaves after you have died and have no further use for them. And to be accurate, Washington didn’t do even that. His will called for his slaves to be freed only upon the later death of Martha, whom they had to continue to serve.
I admire Washington and acknowledge that he was a man of his time and place, and should not be judged harshly by the standards of our own time.  But the fact remains that he kept slaves, whipped slaves, obsessively hunted down runaway slaves, and bought and sold slaves. ”


Bookman’s is a one-dimensional understanding of George Washington, imo.  Here is what Washington, himself, wrote about his responsibility to his inherited slaves:

“Writing to Robert Lewis on August 17, 1799, Washington reflected on the baffling conundrum posed by excess slaves: ‘To sell the overplus (of slaves) I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species.  To hire them out is almost as bad because. . .to disperse the families I have an aversion.  What then is to be done?  Something must or I shall be ruined (financially).’ He possessed ‘a thorough conviction that half the workers I keep on this estate would render me a greater net profit than I now derive from the whole.’ That he owned fewer than half the slaves himself perhaps set the stage for the most courageous action of his career.  If he emancipated his own slaves in his will, he would satisfy his conscience, set a sterling example for futurity, and still leave a viable plantation behind.  In 1799 a convenient convergence of economic and moral factors enabled Washington to settle the issue that had so long gnawed at his mind.”

– From historian Ron Chernow’s Pulitzer Prize winning Book, “Washington: A Life.”


From “MaryElizabethSings,” my blog’s entry entitled, “A New Year: A Budding New Consciousness,” which I wrote and posted December 26, 2010, regarding, in part, the consciousness of George Washington:

“The voluntary relinquishing of power is the primary ingredient needed to move from a vertical to a lateral manner of relating to others. The first president of the United States, George Washington, modeled great wisdom for his nation’s progeny, when – after having guided the American military forces to victory over Great Britain – he chose to relinquish his power and to return to life as a private citizen at Mt. Vernon. Most generals, such as Napoleon, would have seized more political power with newfound military power, but Washington in his wisdom knew that, if the future held a place for him within the public arena, he wanted to be viewed as the servant of the people as their elected president, and not as their powerful ruler/king. That simple gesture by George Washington was a gigantic step in changing the order of reality in the world. Today, the world is moving even more rapidly toward that egalitarian spirit, which fosters the dismantling of previously preprogrammed roles, or labels assigned from the outside, and seeks to look inside for greater authenticity. In my second post I had said, “the essential premise in finding one’s true spirit is understanding that all are equal within the spiritual universe. We are all part of the One. We each have equal, individual spirits within the One.”

“. . .  a new age is rapidly rising – one which fosters a more egalitarian spirit as people relate to one another as inherently equal beings. The old realities of hierarchial thinking are giving way to realities based on truths not mandated from outside of oneself, but which spring from within oneself. We are beginning to relate to others laterally, instead of vertically – as brothers and sisters, instead of as masters and servants. Long held hierarchial communication within religious, social, and political institutions is giving way to a more egalitarian form of communication. Within my lifetime, dramatic changes have already occurred which reflect this paradigm shift of consciousness. The races see themselves, finally, as inherently equal. The public acknowledgement of homosexual orientation is quickly becoming acceptable, and one no longer has to deny outwardly who one innately is as a sexual being. In the threat of worldwide nuclear disaster, world leaders are realizing that they must work together to achieve common goals rather than to continue a long held pattern of domination and submission. Even this blog, through access to the worldwide web, represents an egalitarian change within the communications arena, in which one voice – my voice – has the possibility of sharing individual truths as widespread as only the mainstreet media had in the past.”

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